Deep in the heart of our Catholic faith tradition is the belief of the necessity of speaking the truth to power. This week CACG Chairman Fred Rotondaro discusses how to do this effectively in today's modern political reality.
Faith-based organizations can, and we think should, play a vital role in this year’s midterm elections. Acting in the spirit of our late and dear friend Ambassador Thomas Melady, we should call for constant civility in political discourse. We should build upon this demand to also ask candidates from both parties to respect voters by speaking the truth. Oh, we are not so naïve as to think politicians will not spin policy or interpret events in their favor. That's pretty normal. But, more and more, we see not spinning but out and out lying. Balancing the two – civility and honesty – will be tricky: People do not like being called a liar. But, no democracy can function unless civility and honesty are prized by the voters.
Political civility is off to a very bad start. We were recently shocked at the remarks of one time rocker Ted Nugent inTexas. He called President Barack Obama a "subhuman mongrel.” He had implied, in 2012, that if President Obama were to win, he would assassinate him. A short visit from the Secret Service cleared that one up.
You might ask why Nugent's sub-rational, highly offensive comments are of any interest to anyone? You might ask and I will answer. Ted Nugent has been embraced by a Republican candidate for Texas Governor --Greg Abbott who is now leading his Democratic candidate by 11 points. Nugent opened several recent rallies for Abbott.
Nugent has a curious background. He admits that he had sexual relations with underage girls. He was apparently a draft dodger during Vietnam. He has called female political candidates “bitches." Still, calling the President a phrase once used by Nazis to describe Jews is a new low even by Nugent’s already low standards. Abbott says he doesn't support Nugent's comments or actions, but he wants his support because he is a strong supporter of gun rights.
Dare we to say to Mr. Abbott, this is blatant nonsense. You, sir, want the support of the racists who applaud Nugent's attacks on President Obama. Indeed, former Governor Sarah Palin announced her endorsement of Abbott with the observation, “If he is good enough for Ted Nugent, he is good enough for me.”
Sadly, Texas seems to have a number of Members of Congress who prefer invective to reasoned argument. Their leader is Senator Ted Cruz who, despite a Harvard and Princeton education, ignores logic and fact to drum up the Tea Party to more and greater intensity of hatred of both President Obama and the role of government. Cruz obviously feels this is his path to the presidency. In a rare example of bipartisanship, Sen. Cruz is often as hostile to his fellow Republicans as he is to Democrats.
I fear that lying in politics will join with political invective to replace civil discourse and reasoned debate about policy options in 2014.
There are some key reasons for this. The first is that the Affordable Care Act will be a prime issue and as we know, Obamacare spurs politicians to heights of linguistic fancy. President Obama is still, and rightly so, correcting his claim that if you like your insurance plan, you can keep it. Remember Sarah Palin's death panels charge that dominated debate in 2009? Has a death panel been set up at your hospital? And, I for one still get severe stomach agita when I recall Speaker Boehner's constant references to America having the best health care system in the world.
Dear readers, for the one percent and for Members of Congress, our health system is unsurpassed. But for tens of millions, it is totally mediocre and, until the ACA was passed, for millions more, our health care system was out of reach entirely.
Lying in political debate will also be helped by the nature if the news cycle. Politicians can and will make some totally false claim knowing full well that before they can be challenged, the news cycle will move on to another issue. As an example, conservatives have convinced much of America that the stimulus did not work. They kept saying it didn't work. Democrats were too weak in defending the stimulus. And so a new reality was born: The stimulus didn’t work although, in fact, that and other actions taken by President Obama and President Bush kept the U.S. from a second Great Depression. But the new reality allowed conservatives to claim that because classic Keynesianism did not work, we needed to try austerity. The entire political debate shifted from promoting economic growth to restricting government spending. The result? An anemic recovery with a still too high unemployment rate largely because this austerity agenda has vastly reduced the number of people working in government jobs.
CACG will return to these and related themes through the year. Voters should be tough and aggressive in demanding civility and honesty from candidates. We urge our members to be vigilant, write letters to the editor about unfounded claims and vile rhetoric, send an email to any network that airs a lie without correcting it, or repeats an uncivil comment without condemning it. Our democracy belongs to us, not just to the haters and the liars.